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Industrial Designer Job Description, Career as an Industrial Designer, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training College

Salary Median—$52,310 per year

Employment Outlook Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Industrial designers work to improve the appearance, safety, and usefulness of industrial products. They develop new styles and designs for a wide variety of products ranging from ballpoint pens and stoves to automobiles and electronics. Since manufacturing firms in the United States produce such a wide variety of goods, there are many design problems and many specialists in the field of industrial design. Designers who work in the auto industry, for example, may concentrate on automobile interiors, car lighting systems, or aluminum or plastic parts for automobiles. Other areas of specialization include package design or the design of industrial machinery. Some industrial designers create trademarks—symbols that appear on all of a company's products, stationery, and advertisements.

The first steps in developing a new design, or altering an existing one, are to find and meet the requirements of the client. When creating a new design, designers often begin by researching the product user and how the product will be used. Desired product characteristics, such as size, shape, weight, color, materials used, cost, ease of use, fit, and safety are considered. Designers gather this information by meeting with clients, conducting market research, reading design and consumer publications, attending trade shows, and visiting potential users, suppliers, and manufacturers. After a suitable design has been selected, industrial designers prepare detailed drawings that specify color, materials, and exact dimensions. They are often assisted by drafters. For many projects, the designer or a model maker prepares a scale model. Designers may also participate in usability and safety tests with prototypes to make further adjustments to the design before it goes to manufacturing.

Computer technology is changing the way industrial designers do many of their tasks. (© Brownie Harris/Corbis.)

Many industrial designers use computer-aided design (CAD) tools to create and better visualize the final product. Computer models allow ease and flexibility in exploring a greater number of design alternatives, thus reducing design costs and cutting the time it takes to deliver a product to market. Industrial designers who work for manufacturing firms also use computer-aided industrial design tools to create designs and machine-readable instructions that communicate with automated production tools.

Education and Training Requirements

A bachelor's degree in industrial design, architecture, or engineering is required for most entry-level industrial design positions. Many job-seekers also pursue a master's degree to increase their job opportunities. Creativity and technical knowledge are crucial in this field, as is awareness of how the product functions. While familiarity with CAD is expected, sketching ability remains an important advantage. A portfolio of examples of an applicant's best work is often the deciding factor in getting a job.

Getting the Job

School placement offices can provide advice and information about getting a job as an industrial designer. Job seekers can also apply directly to manufacturing firms. Trade and professional journals, newspaper want ads, and Internet job sites list openings for industrial designers.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Beginning industrial designers normally need one to three years of on-the-job training before they can advance to higher-level positions. Experienced designers in large firms may advance to chief designer, design department head, or other supervisory positions. Some designers become teachers in design schools, colleges, or universities. Many continue to consult privately or operate their own design businesses.

Employment of industrial designers is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2014. This growth is anticipated to arise from an expanding economy and from an increase in consumer or business demand for new or upgraded products. For those with strong backgrounds in engineering, CAD, and extensive business expertise, the best job opportunities should be in specialized design or manufacturing firms.

Working Conditions

Designers employed by manufacturing firms generally work forty hours per week in comfortable settings. They may also travel to other locations, such as testing and manufacturing facilities.

Where to Go for More Information

Industrial Designers Society of America
45195 Business Ct., Ste. 250
Dulles, VA 20166-6717
(703) 707-6000

National Association of Schools of Art and Design
11250 Roger Bacon Dr., Ste. 21
Reston, VA 20190-5248
(703) 437-0700

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings depend on the industrial designer's experience and ability and on the type of job. The median annual salary for industrial designers was $52,310 in 2004. Benefits include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesManufacturing & Production